This Is Your Optimal Amount of Exercise

“If you can move, you’re alive.”

I’ve carried that phrase with me since medical school.

It’s one reason I recommend movement as one of the most powerful ways to improve your health.

And it’s not easy to improve your health by getting in shape. Perhaps the most common reason people have for not exercising is they don’t have time. To be fair, it’s not an excuse… Exercising can be a big time commitment.

We’re told lots of different rules for exercise, everything from a few minutes to a few hours. And it’s either every day, every other day, or once or twice a week.

So, what are we supposed to do?

Well, researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in New York solved part of the equation. They set out to find exactly how much exercise we need to reach optimal brain health.

The group looked at 4,600 clinical trials spanning different types, intensities, and durations of exercise in older adults.

They found that exercising for 52 hours over a period of six months had the biggest improvement in cognition.

In other words, exercising for about three hours a week was all it took.

Even better, the intensity didn’t matter. They found the same benefit from aerobic exercise, resistance training, and even yoga and tai chi.

We’ve recommended all of these exercises before. Aerobic exercise helps heart health. Resistance and weight-bearing is great for strong bones. And yoga and tai chi improve balance and flexibility.

In fact, back in May, I wrote about how anxiety at middle-age sets you up for dementia later in life. But taking steps to reduce stress (which contributes to anxiety) helps curb the effects. And a great way to do that is yoga.

So, does this mean that we need to exercise for three hours a week for our brains plus additional workouts for other health?

Yes and no.

The authors saw that the most important aspect of exercise wasn’t a specific number of minutes every day, but rather creating a consistent routine for the long-term.

However, we also know that just nine minutes a week of a certain exercise strengthens your heart and improves metabolism. That’s something you can’t afford to skip.

As I wrote a few years ago, high-intensity interval training (“HIIT”) is a workout strategy where you mix short, intense bursts of effort with longer recovery periods. It’s intense, but safe for anyone, even older folks and people just starting with regular exercise.

Studies show HIIT is more efficient than regular aerobic exercise. It improves your body’s ability to burn fat and calories. A 12- to 15-minute HIIT workout is equivalent to an hour of steady aerobic exercise.

The most studied HIIT regimen is something called the “Wingate.” In the Wingate, the participant exercises at an “all out” level of exertion for 30 seconds, then rests for about four minutes. This cycle repeats four to six times, so that the total exertion time is only two to three minutes. Participants complete this workout three times a week.

That’s only nine minutes per week of intense exertion compared with 150 minutes of aerobics or 16 hours of walking. And according to additional research, reducing the intensity still provides benefits for people with somewhat limited mobility.

HIIT can benefit most people, even those with cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The key is to start at lower levels and build up slowly.

The bottom line… engage in several types of exercise for a well-rounded, healthy lifestyle. Try HIIT plus walking or running once or twice a week. Sign up for a weekly yoga class. Enjoy 20-minute walks after every meal. The more you get up and get moving, the better you’ll feel.

What We’re Reading…

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
June 5, 2018